2/17/2010 10:09:00 AM Town proposes legislation to bring special prison vote
Heidi Dahms-Foster Special to the Tribune
Prescott Valley officials have proposed legislative action that could bring the issue of a prison to a public vote before the council takes any more action on the proposal.
Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said the town has talked with Rep. Andy Tobin, asking him to propose a bill that would allow the town to field a special election that currently would not be allowed by state law.
However, Brad Fain of the Fain Signature Group said Tuesday that his family feels the action is premature. If a special election were held, he said, and residents voted in favor of a prison, then council approved rezoning and annexation, opponents could still force a referendum and cause the community to go through another vote.
"Do we want to go through the public process once or twice?" he said. "We need to get all the facts so we can see what is the best method to go forward."
Brad Fain read a statement in the public comment portion of the Feb. 10 Prescott Valley Town Council meeting that stated the Fains would again bring the prison proposal before the council.
"I don't want you, as the public leaders, to be caught off guard and surprised, but I want you to be prepared and to get educated on this opportunity so that you can cast a vote and send this decision to the public for a final vote," he said.
Before a vote could occur, the council would first have to annex and approve rezoning for the land on which the prison would stand. Then, residents could gather signatures to petition for a referendum. That process occurred when Prescott Valley residents in opposition to a proposed Walmart here forced a vote, which a majority supported in a special election.
In fact, it was the development process of the Granville subdivision and the Walmart that the Fains say has brought the current tension about the prison proposal process.
Bill Fain said in a recent letter to council that "no growth" factions who were in opposition to a planned community residential project subjected the Granville subdivision to "intensive public scrutiny" before the council gave its approval.
After council approved Walmart, Fain said, "a minority advocacy group with a strong union bias ... got enough signatures to require a public vote. Prescott Valley residents approved the Walmart by nearly a two-to-one margin," he said.
This process cost the town a year's delay, Fain said, and a subsequent union suit against the town and the Fains, which the union lost, cost another year's delay, at which time the Walmart project fell victim to the declining economy.
"(Walmart) has now been delayed for more than three years and lost approximate revenue in regional property taxes of $160,000 per year, and lost revenue in municipal taxes of $760,000 per year," Fain said.
Fain said he feels that the same factions are at work against the prison proposal, and have again stymied the public process.
One thing both sides have agreed upon is that they desire a public vote on the proposal.
"We would like to see legislation that would allow for a special election on the single issue of a prison proposal in a community," Tarkowski said. "(A prison) has the opportunity and likelihood to change the complexion of a community, and that's why the legal solution of a special ballot might be our best option."
Tobin said Tuesday that he thinks it would be a good idea for towns to be able to bring such issues before their residents, but that he had not yet had the opportunity to study the proposal.
Brad Fain said he is not ready for such a bill without talking with Tobin, other legislators, and town officials.
"I think we just need to slow down the process, and get all the facts before moving forward. We're dealing with speculation and emotions, and people are hearing things that are extreme opposites. There are not enough facts to say where the middle ground is. That's my concern. Our goal in the end is that we really want to work with the town again."
Bill Fain said, "We don't want to stir up controversy and conflict within the community. The proper way, in our opinion, to deal with it is to put it to an informed public vote. Then if the citizens in this community determine that they don't want a prison, our family is in full support. On the other hand, if they decide that it brings more benefit than downside, then we are in full support."
Tarkowski said he has put discussion of the election option on Thursday night's council study session at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers. The council will discuss the issue but does not take public comment during study sessions.